(SAVANNAH, GA) The Fresh Express no-cost fresh food distribution program has expanded to a third permanent site.

Located at the intersection of East 40th Street and Waters Avenue, the site provides food on the first Friday of each month. The two other locations — the Curtis V. Cooper Family Health at 106 E. Broad St., and the Moses Jackson Center at 1410 Richards St. — distribute on third Fridays. All begin at 9:30 a.m. on the day of distribution.

The new site started as a pop-up location but was made permanent due to demand.

“At each site, we usually have around 25 households that come to pick up produce, but turnout at Waters and 40th often surpasses that average,” said Laura Schmarkey, association outreach program director. “For example, in June we served 34 households there.”

An initiative of the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, in partnership with Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, Fresh Express launched in 2016 to serve neighborhoods with low access to fresh food. The monthly event expanded to its second and now third permanent sites with the support of the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant funding awarded to Healthy Savannah and the Y through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schmarkey says while demand helped drive the decision to make the new location permanent, it was made possible through the efforts of the volunteers who staff each site and make each day successful.

“One of our site volunteers told us about a young lady who consistently wanted lemons, specifically as a remedy during the pandemic to make hot lemon water,” said Schmarkey. “So our staff and volunteers always made sure to gather some lemons for this lady and her elderly mother when stocking up before distribution day.”

On the first and third Fridays of each month, the volunteers and staff members distribute an average of 750 pounds of fresh produce and bread to neighbors in need. Each family can fill two bags full of fresh foods to take home each month at no cost to them.

“We shop the Second Harvest’s selection on the day of distribution so every time there is something different, but we like to lean towards having an even mix of fruits and veggies,” Schmarkey said.

“We love selecting mixed greens and salad kits and staples like potatoes and onions. We try to always find what we call ‘walkable food,’ such as apples, peaches, plums, and bananas for our community members who don’t necessarily have a kitchen or a home. We also distribute bread and often have surprise items like pumpkins, mini evergreen trees, water, and sunscreen.”

According to a 2020 study from Feeding America, 17.1% of Chatham County residents are considered food insecure. Additionally, 21.8% of the children in Chatham County are food insecure.

“Since the launch of Fresh Express we have been able to put more than 60,000 pounds of fresh food back into the community to serve neighbors in need,” Schmarkey said. “The Y is proud to serve our community with our partners at Second Harvest and United Way, along with support from the REACH grant, to provide this monthly produce distribution program that aims to provide access to fresh fruits, vegetables and bread in neighborhoods with insecure access to healthy foods.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at one of the Fresh Express sites can sign up by emailing Schmarkey at laura.schmarkey@ymcaofcoastalga.org or calling 912-354-5480.

For more information on volunteering, visit https://ymcaofcoastalga.org/Volunteer or https://www.unitedwayvolunteers.org/ Learn more about the Fresh Express program and see the schedule of upcoming distribution dates at https://ymcaofcoastalga.org/freshexpress.

ABOUT THE YMCA OF COASTAL GEORGIA/HEALTHY SAVANNAH GRANT FOR RACIAL AND ETHNIC APPROACHES TO COMMUNITY HEALTH: In September 2018, Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia were awarded a five-year, $3.4 million grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. Awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the funding is being deployed in an “upstream” approach by the Savannah/Chatham County project team to foster sustainable health equity among Black residents in low-wealth neighborhoods. The aim of the local project, called Healthy Opportunities Powering Equity, or HOPE, is to increase the availability of high-quality nutrition; promote physical activity through creating greater access to safe places to walk, run, bike and play; and foster stronger connections between people and the healthcare providers who serve them. Working with more than 200 community partners and organizations, the team is committed to elevating the health and wellness of the community through policy, systems, and environmental change. In July 2022, Healthy Savannah received the CDC’s 2022 REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity Challenge. The award recognizes extraordinary individuals and entities whose work has contributed to advancing health equity.healthysavannah.org ymcaofcoastalga.org.

Marjorie Young
Carriage Trade Public Relations® Inc.

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